Lumen: Conversation I, Part III
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LUMEN: On turning away from the sanguinary scenes of the Place de la Révolution, my eyes were attracted towards a habitation of somewhat an antique style, situated in front of Notre Dame, and occupying the place of the present square in front of the cathedral. I saw a group of five persons before the entrance of the cathedral, who were reclining on wooden benches in the sunshine, with their heads uncovered. When they rose and crossed the square, I perceived that one was my father, younger than I could remember him, another my mother, still younger, and a third a cousin of mine who died the same year as my father, now nearly forty years ago. I found it difficult at first to recognise these persons, for instead of facing them, I saw them only from on high above their heads. I was not a little surprised at this unlooked-for meeting, but then I remembered that I had heard that my parents lived in the Place Notre Dame before my birth. I cannot tell you how profoundly I was affected by this sight; my perception seemed to fail me, and a cloud appeared to obscure Paris from my view. I felt as though I had been carried off by a whirlwind; for, as you are aware, I had lost all sense of time. When I began again to see objects distinctly, I noticed a troop of children running across the Place de Panthéon. They looked like school children coming out of class; for they had their portfolios and books in their hands, and were apparently going to their homes, gambolling and gesticulating. Two of them attracted me especially, for I saw they were quarrelling and just preparing to fight, and another little fellow was advancing to separate them when he received a blow on the shoulder and was thrown down. In an instant a woman ran to help him; this was my own mother. Words fail me to tell my amazement when I perceived that the child to whose rescue my mother came was my own self. Never in my seventy-two years of earthly life, with all the unlooked-for changes and strange events with which it was crowded, never in all its surprises and chances have I felt such emotion as this sight caused me; I was completely overcome when in this child I recognised--myself!
Lumen sees his own life on Earth.
QUÆRENS: You saw yourself?
LUMEN: Yes, myself, with the blond curls of six years of age, with my little collar embroidered by my mother's hands, my little blouse of light blue colour, and the cuffs always rumpled. There I was, the very same as you have seen in the half-effaced miniature that stood on my mantelpiece. My mother came over to me, and sharply reproving the other boys, took me up in her arms, and then led me by the hand into the house, which was close to the Rue d' Ulm. There I saw that, after passing through the house, we reappeared in the garden in the midst of a numerous company.
QUÆRENS: Master, pardon me a criticism. I confess to you that it appears to me impossible that you could see yourself; you could not be two persons; and since you were seventy-two years old, your infancy was passed, and had totally disappeared. You could not see a thing that no longer existed. I cannot comprehend how when an old man you could see yourself as an infant.
LUMEN: Why cannot you admit this point on the same grounds as the preceding ones?
QUÆRENS: Because you cannot see yourself double, an infant and an old man, at the same time.
LUMEN: Look at the matter more closely, my friend. You admit the general fact, but you do not sufficiently observe, that this last particular is logically inferred from that fact. You admit that the view I had of the Earth was seventy-two years in coming to me, do you not? that events reached me only at that interval of time after they had taken place? in short, that I saw the world as it was at that epoch? You admit, likewise, that as I saw the streets of that time I saw also the children running in those streets? You admit all this?
QUÆRENS: Yes, decidedly.
LUMEN: Well, then, since I saw this troop of children, and myself amongst them, why do you say I could not see myself as well as the others?
QUÆRENS: But you were no longer there amongst them!
LUMEN: Again, I repeat, this whole troop of children has ceased to exist. But I saw them such as they were at the moment the ray of light left the Earth, which only reached me at the present time. And as I could distinguish the fifteen to eighteen children in the group, there was no reason why I should disappear from amongst them because I myself was the distant spectator. Since any other observer could see me in company with my comrades, why should I form an exception? I saw them all, and I saw myself amongst them.
QUÆRENS: I had not fully taken in the idea. It is evident, in short, that seeing a troop of children, of whom you were one, you could not fail to see yourself as well as you saw the others.
LUMEN: Now you can understand into what a state of surprise I was thrown. This child was really myself, flesh and bones, as the vulgar expression has it--myself, at the age of six years. I saw myself as well as the company in the garden who were playing with me saw me. It was no mirage, no vision, no spectre, no reminiscence, no image; it was reality, positively myself, my thought and my body. I was there before my eyes. If my other senses had the perfection of my sight, it seemed as though I should have been able to touch and hear myself. I jumped about the garden and ran round the pond, which had a balustrade around it. Some time after my grandfather took me on his knees and made me read in a big book. It is not possible for me to describe my astonishment. I must leave you to imagine what it was to me, and to realise the fact, now that you understand upon what it was based. Suffice it to say, that I had never received such a surprise in my life. One reflection especially puzzled me.
I said to myself, this child is really me, he is alive, he will grow up, and he ought to live sixty-six years longer. It is undoubtedly myself. And on the other hand, here I am, having lived seventy-two years of the terrestrial life. I who now think and see these things, I am still myself, and this child is me also. Am I then two beings, one there below, on the Earth, and the other here in space--two complete persons and yet quite distinct? An observer, placed where I am, could see this child in the garden, as I see him, and at the same time see me here. I must be two--it is incontestable. My soul is in this child; it is no less here. It is the same soul, my own soul. How can it animate two beings? What a strange reality! For I cannot say that I delude myself, or that what I see is an optical illusion, for both according to nature, and by the laws of science, I see at once a child and an old man--the one there beyond, the other here where I am, the former joyous and free-hearted, the other pensive and agitated.
Lumen sees himself a child.
QUÆRENS: In truth it is strange!
LUMEN: Yes, but no less true. You may search through all creation and not find such a paradox. Well, to proceed with my history, I saw myself grow up in this vast city of Paris, I saw myself enter college in 1804, and perform my first military exercises when the First Consul was crowned Emperor. One day as I passed by the Carrousel I got a glimpse of the domineering and thoughtful face of Napoleon. I could not remember having seen him in my life, and it was interesting to see him thus pass across my field of view. In 1810 I saw myself promoted to the Polytechnic School, and there I was talking of the course of studies with François Arago, the best of comrades. He already belonged to the institute, and had replaced Monge at the school, because the Emperor had complained of the Jesuitism of Binet. I saw myself, in like manner, all through the brilliant years of my youth, full of projects of travels for scientific exploration, in company with Arago and Humboldt, travels which only the latter decided to undertake.
Lumen sees himself a young man.
Later on I saw myself during the Hundred Days, crossing quickly the little wood of the old Luxembourg, and then the Rue de l'Est and the avenue of the garden of the Rue St. Jaques, and hastening to meet my beloved under the lilac-trees. Sweet meetings all to ourselves, the confidences of our hearts, the silences of our souls, the transports of our evening conversations, were all presented to my astonished sight, no longer veiled by distance, but actually before my eyes. I was present again at the combat with the Allies on the hill of Montmartre, and saw their descent into the capital, and the fall of the statue in the Place Vendôme, when it was drawn through the streets with cries of joy. I saw the camp of the English and the Prussians in the Champs-Élysées, the destruction of the Louvre, the journey to Ghent, the entrance of Louis XVIII.
Lumen witnesses the events of the Hundred Days.
The flag of the island of Elba floated before my eyes, and later on I sought out the far Atlantic isle where the eagle, with his wings broken, was chained. The rotation of the Earth soon brought before my eyes the Emperor in St. Helena sadly musing at the foot of a sycamore-tree.
Thus the events of the years as they passed were revealed to me in following my own career--my marriage, my various enterprises, my connections, my travels, my studies, and so on. I witnessed at the same time the development of contemporary history. To the restoration of Louis XVIII. succeeded the brief reign of Charles X. I saw the barricades of the days of July 1830, and not far from the throne of the Duke of Orleans I saw the Column of the Bastile arise. Passing rapidly over eighteen years, I perceived myself at the Luxembourg at the time when that magnificent avenue was opened, that avenue I loved so much, and which has been threatened by a recent decree. I saw Arago again, this time at the Observatory, and I beheld the crowd before the door of the new amphitheatre. I recognised the Sorbonne of Cousin and of Guizot. Then I shuddered as I saw my mother's funeral pass. She was a stern woman, and perhaps a little too severe in her judgments, but I loved her dearly, as you know. The singular and brief revolution of 1848 surprised me as much as when I first witnessed it. On the Place de la Bourse I saw Lamoricière, who was buried last year, and in the Champs-Élysées, Cavaignac, who has been dead five or six years. The 2nd of December found me an observer on my solitary tower, and from thence I witnessed many striking events which passed before me, and many others which were unknown to me.
Historical events appear in succession.
QAERENS: Did the event pass rapidly before you?
LUMEN: I had no perception of time; but the whole retrospective panorama appeared to me in successive scenes--in less than a day, perhaps in a few hours.
QUÆRENS: Then I do not understand you at all. Pardon your old friend this interruption, a little too abrupt perhaps. As I took it, you saw the real events of your life, not merely images of them. But, in view of the time necessary for the passage of light, these events appeared to you after they had happened. If, then, seventy-two terrestrial years had passed before your eyes, they should have taken seventy-two years to appear to you, and not a few hours. If the year 1793 appeared to you only in 1864, the year 1864, consequently, should only in 1936 appear to you.
LUMEN: You have grounds for your fresh objection, and this proves to me that you have perfectly comprehended the theory of this fact. I fully appreciate your belief in me; indeed its consciousness helps me in my explanations. Thus it is not necessary that seventy-two years should be needed in which to review my life, for under the impulse of an involuntary force all its events passed before me in less than a day. Continuing to follow the course of my existence, I reached its later years, rendered memorable by the striking changes which had come over Paris. I saw our old friends, and you yourself; my daughter and her charming children; my family, and circle of acquaintances; and last of all I saw myself lying dead upon my bed, and I was present at the final scene. Yes; I tell you I had returned to the Earth. Drawn by the contemplation which absorbed my soul, I had quickly forgotten the mountain, the old men, and Capella. Even as a dream all faded from my mind.
The anachronism explained.
I did not at first perceive the strange vision which captivated all my faculties. I cannot tell you either by what law or by what power souls can be transported with such rapidity from one place to another. Suffice it to say, I had returned to the Earth in less than a day, and I had entered my chamber even at the moment of my decease. Also in this returning voyage I had travelled faster than the rays of light, hence the various phases of my life on Earth had unrolled themselves to my sight in their successive stages as they occurred. When I reached half-way I saw the rays of light arriving only thirty-six years behind time, showing me the Earth, not as it appeared seventy-two years ago, but thirty-six. When I had travelled three-quarters of the way I saw things as they had been eighteen years ago; at the half of the last quarter, as they were nine years previously; until finally the whole acts of my life were condensed into less than one day because of the rapid rate at which my soul had travelled, which far surpassed the velocity of the rays of light.
QUÆRENS: Was not this a very strange phenomenon?
LUMEN: Do any other objections rise in your mind as you listen to me?
QUÆRENS: No, this is the only one; or rather, this one has puzzled and interested me so greatly that it has absorbed all others.
LUMEN: I would remark that there is another, an astronomical one, which I will hasten to dispel, for fear it should arise and cloud your mind. It depends upon the Earth's movement, not only upon its diurnal rotation, which in itself would be sufficient to prevent my seeing the facts in succession, but this movement would also be greatly accelerated by the rapidity of my return to the Earth. Hence seventy-two years would pass before me in less than a day. On reflection, I was surprised that I had not earlier perceived this; yet as I had only seen a comparatively small number of countries, panoramas, and facts, it is probable that in returning to our planet I had only a fleeting glance for a few moments of the successive points of interest. But however this may be, I can but bear evidence that I have been witness to the rapid succession of events both throughout the century and of my own life.
QUÆRENS: That difficulty had not escaped me; I had weighted the thought, and had come to the conclusion that you had revolved in space, even as a balloon is spun round by the rotation of the globe. It is true that the inconceivable speed with which you would be whirled through space would be likely to give you vertigo, nevertheless, after hearing your experience, this hypothesis forces itself upon me, that spirits rush through space with the lightness and velocity of thought; and in remarking on the intensity of your gaze as you approached certain parts of the Earth, may it not be admissible to infer that this very eagerness to see certain localities, might be the reason of your being drawn to them, and as it were fixed above their point of vision?
LUMEN: As to this I can affirm nothing, because I know nothing; but I do not think this is the explanation. I did not see all the events of my life, but only a few of the main ones, which, successively unfolding, passed in review before me on the same visual ray. A magnetism drew me imperiously as with a chain to the Earth; or, if you prefer it, a force similar to that mysterious attraction of the stars, by reason of which, stars of a lesser degree would inevitably fall upon those of the first magnitude, unless retained in their orbits by centrifugal force.
QUÆRENS: In reflecting on the effect of the concentration of thought upon a single point, and of the attraction which consequently ensues towards that point, I cannot but conclude that therein lies the mainspring of the mechanism of dreams.
LUMEN: You say truly, my friend; I can confirm you in this remark, as for many years I have made dreams the subject of a special study and observation. When the soul, freed from the attentions, the preoccupations, the encumbrance of the body, has a vision of the object which charms it, and towards which it is irresistibly drawn, all disappear except the object. That alone remains, and becomes the centre of a world of creations; the soul possesses it entirely without any reserve, it contemplates it, it seizes it as its own, the entire universe is effaced from the memory in order that its domination over the soul may be absolute. I felt thus on being drawn earthwards. I saw but one object, around which were grouped the ideas, the images, and the associations to which it had given birth.
QUÆRENS: Your rapid flight to Capella and your equally rapid return to the Earth were governed by this psychological law; and you acted more freely than in a dream, because your soul was not impeded by the machinery of your organism. Often in our former conversations have you discoursed to me upon the strength of the will. Thus, willing to do so, you were enabled to return and to see yourself upon your death-bed before your mortal remains had been committed to the dust.
LUMEN: I did return; and I blessed my family for the sincerity of their grief. I shed a benediction on them; I soothed their grief, and poured balm upon their wounded hearts; and I inspired my children with the belief that the body lying there was not my real self--my ego--but merely the shell from which my soul had risen to a sphere celestial, infinite, and far beyond their earthly ken.
I witnessed my own funeral procession, and I noticed those who called themselves my friends and who yet for some trifling reason, begged to be excused from following my remains to their last resting-place. I listened to the various comments of those following my bier, and although in this region of peace we are free from that thirst for praise which clings to most of us whilst on Earth, nevertheless I felt gratified to know that I had left pleasant memories behind me. When the stone of the vault was rolled away, that which separates the dead from the living, I gave a last farewell to my poor sleeping body; and, as the Sun set in its bed of purple and gold, I went out into the air until night had fallen, plunged in admiration of the beautiful scenes which unrolled themselves in the heavens. The aurora borealis displayed itself above the North Pole in bands of glistening silver, shooting stars rained from Cassiopeia, and the full Moon rose slowly in the east like a new world emerging from the waves. I saw Capella scintillating and looking at me with a glance pure and bright, and could distinguish the crowns surrounding it, as if they were princes dowered with a celestial divinity.
Then I forgot the Earth, the Moon, the Planetary System, the Sun, the Comets, in one intense, overpowering attraction towards a shining brilliant star, and I felt myself carried towards it instinctively with a celerity far greater than that of an electric flash. After a time, the duration of which I cannot guess, I arrived upon the same ring and upon the same mountain, from which I had first kept watch when I saw the old men occupied in following the history of the Earth, seventy-one years and eight months ago. They were still absorbed in the contemplation of events happening in the city of Lyons on the 23rd of January 1793. I will avow to you the reason of the mysterious attraction of Capella for me. For marvellous as it may seem, there are in creation invisible ties which do not break like mortal ties; there are means by which souls can commune with each other, in spite of the distance that separates them.
Lumen witnesses his own funeral.
On the evening of the second day, as the emerald Moon enshrined itself in the third ring of gold--for such is the sidereal measurement of time--I found myself walking in a lonely avenue enamelled with flowers of sweet perfume.
Sauntering along, as if in a dream, imagine my delight when I saw coming towards me my beautiful and beloved Sylvia. She was at a ripe age at her death, and notwithstanding an indefinable change I recognised the features, whose expression had but deepened and spiritualised, in happy correspondence with her sweet, pure life. I will not stop to describe to you the joy of our meeting, this is not the time for it; but perchance some day we may have the opportunity of descanting upon the different manifestations of affection in this world and the world beyond the grave, and I only add now that together we sought our native land on Earth, where we had passed days of peace and happiness.
He meets the spirit of his wife.
We delighted to turn our gaze towards the luminous point, which our state of exaltation enabled us to perceive was a world--the one upon which we had lived in earthly form--we loved to wed the memory of the past with the reality of our present, and in all the freshness of our new and ecstatic sensations we sought to recall and review the scenes of our youth. It was thus we actually saw again the happy years of our earthly love, the pavilion of the convent, the flower garden, the promenades in the charming and delightful environs of Paris, and the solitary rambles that, loving and beloved, we took together. To retrace these years we had but to travel together into space in the direction of the Earth, where these scenes, focused by the light, were being photographed. Now, my friend, I have fulfilled my promise in revealing to you these remarkable observations.
They recall their life on Earth.
Behold, the day breaks, and the star Lucifer is paling already under its rosy light. I must return to the constellations. . . .
QUÆRENS: Just one more word, Lumen, before we conclude this interview. Can earthly scenes be transmitted successively into space--if so, the present could be kept perpetually before the eyes of distant spectators, and be limited only by the power of their spiritual sight?
LUMEN: Yes, my friend. Let us, for example, place our first observer on the Moon--he would perceive terrestrial events one second and a quarter after they had happened. Let us place a second observer at four times the distance--he would be cognisant of them five seconds later. Double the distance, and a third would see them ten seconds after they had taken place. Again double the distance, and a fourth observer would have to wait twenty seconds before he could witness them; so on and on with ever-increasing delay, until at the Sun's distance; eight minutes and thirteen seconds must elapse before they could become visible.
The precession of events as seen in space.
Upon certain planets, as we have seen, hours must intervene between the action and the sight of it; further off still, days, months, even years must elapse. Upon neighbouring stars earthly events are not seen until four, six, ten years after their occurrence; but there are stars so distant that light only reaches them after many centuries, and even thousands of years. Indeed, there are nebulæ to which light takes millions of years to travel.
QUÆRENS: Therefore it only needs a sight sufficiently piercing to witness events historic or geologic which are long since past. Could not one, therefore, so gifted see the Deluge, the Garden of Eden, Adam and . . .
LUMEN: I have told you, my old friend, that the rising of the sun on this hemisphere puts to flight all spirits, so I must go. Another interview may be granted us some other day, when we can continue our talk on this subject, and I will then give you a general sketch which will open out for you new horizons. The stars call me, and are already disappearing. I must away. Adieu, Qærens, adieu.
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